Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Plague Of Poison - Maureen Ash

A Plague Of Poison
A Templar Knight Mystery
Maureen Ash
Berkley Prime Crime


It’s the spring of 1201 A.D., and while most of the townspeople and farmers of Lincoln, England are making repairs or planting crops, someone else has murder on his mind. He begins testing his poison (this is in the Prologue, so it’s no spoiler) on a stray dog. This is a pretty gruesome scene, particularly for readers who love animals, and graphic enough to make me long for justice to come to the murderer instantly and painfully.

A few weeks later, a clerk in the castle at Lincoln falls ill and dies within minutes. The doctor (leech) suggests that perhaps the man ate something rancid. Bascot de Marins, a Templar who has been living at the castle for some eighteen months, recuperating from being held prisoner in the Holy Land for eight years, knows that another possibility is some disease against which the people have no cure. When another knight in the household dies in the same manner, the cause is quickly narrowed down to poison. More distressing is that the initial target was apparently the castellan, Nicolaa de la Haye.

The author does a marvelous job of setting the time and place. Her descriptions of the town, the castle, and the unfortunately but aptly named suburb of Butwerks, which contains most of the refuse and squalor, really allows the reader feel as if they’re seeing everything. And, possibly, smelling it, too. This is no romanticized history; everything – good, bad, and ugly – is presented and described in detail.

In the midst of the attention to detail, the author never strays far from the central mystery or the characters. The initial deaths occur within the first few pages, leaving plenty of space for the story to develop. New readers will have no problem starting here. For those who have read the series from the start (THE ALEHOUSE MURDERS, DEATH OF A SQUIRE) the characters continue to evolve. Bascot, in particular, has a potentially life-altering decision to make. Nicolaa continues to be a strong and intelligent female without seeming anachronistically modern. The scenes presented from the poisoner’s point of view are truly chilling and keep the story moving. This is a great historical series, and I hope to see much more.

Rating: 8
March 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22677-3 (paperback)


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